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The Football Fanatic

By O.B. Usmen

COLUMNIST

The Rams are back. After upsetting Oakland (4-2) last week for their first win, St. Louis (2-5) got their sea legs back and overwhelmed Seattle 37-20. Marshall Faulk carried the ball 32 times for 183 yards and scored four touchdowns, effectively beating the Seahawks by himself. As long as the Rams can keep Faulk involved, they could turn the season around.

In what could very well be a preview of the NFC Championship Game, Philadelphia (4-2) held off the Buccaneers (5-2) 20-10. The Tampa Bay defense held Donovan McNabb to 127 yards passing, but couldn’t contain Duce Staley who rushed for 152 yards. Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks scored his fourth touchdown of the season on a fumble return, making him the highest scorer on the team after the kicker.

New Orleans (6-1) scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, to come from behind and beat San Francisco (4-2) 35-27. Aaron Brooks threw for three touchdowns and ran in another one to help the Saints to the best record in the NFC.

San Diego (6-1) continues to surprise, with an overtime victory over the high-powered Raiders (4-2) 27-21 this week. Rich Gannon passed for over 330 yards for the fifth straight game but couldn’t overcome the dominance of LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 153 yards on 39 carries, including the game-winning 19-yard touchdown run in overtime. Oakland hopes to rebound after back-to-back losses next week against Kansas City, as San Diego enters their bye week sporting their best record since 1994 when they went to the Super Bowl.

Dolphins’ passing game in trouble

When Jay Fiedler went down two weeks ago, Miami (5-2) knew their passing game would suffer. Last week, receiver Oronde Gadsen sprained his wrist, putting the Dolphins in an even tighter spot.

The situation with Gadsen has some history. The team’s most productive receiver over the past three years, Gadsen requested a contract extension this year but was denied the salary he requested. Outwardly unhappy about the situation, Gadsen has played with his sights sets on free-agency. When he sprained his wrist, Gadsen opted for season-ending surgery over a couple weeks on the bench, as a gesture to the Dolphins organization. Now, thanks to their stingy attitude toward their receivers, Miami is desperate for a solution to their passing woes.

Enter Cris Carter. When he was let loose by the Vikings in the off-season, Carter shopped around but no one would offer the 8-time pro bowl receiver the contract he was looking for. Now that the Dolphins need a receiver in the worst way, (especially since backup quarterback Ray Lucas needs all the help he can get,) Carter’s demands seem less unreasonable. Carter passed his physical last week, and will suit up in Miami’s Monday night game against Green Bay on Nov. 4.

In the end, Miami spent more money on receivers than they ever intended, and this still may not be the solution to their problems. This should be a lesson to organizations around the league: treat your own players well or pay the price later.

Riddle of the running backs

Emmitt Smith is now 93 yards from overtaking Walter Payton as the career rushing leader in NFL history. The significance of this feat has rekindled the flame of one of the greatest sports debates: who is the best running-back of all time? Strong arguments can be made for Smith, Payton, and Jim Brown, however my vote goes to Barry Sanders. Believe it or not, Barry Sanders is one of the most underrated running-backs in history. The only chink in his illustrious armor is that he has never won a Super Bowl. However, I would claim that what makes a running-back great is purely his ability to run, and in that category Sanders is number one.

Barry never had a world-class defense keeping opposing teams deathly afraid of a quick strike like Payton’s Bears did. Barry never had a monstrous offensive line and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback like Smith did. What Barry did, he did on his own. Quietly he racked up 15,269 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. That’s almost a full yard more per carry than Payton or Smith over their careers, and nearly 3,000 more yards that Jim Brown.

Sanders retired while he was at the peak of his game. Unfortunate. It appears now that he is nearly forgotten. He rushed for over 1,000 yards every year he played, and had the best year in history rushing for 2,053 yards on 6.1 yards per-carry. If you doubt for a second that Barry Sanders is the greatest, watch any game he played. No running back was more feared, no running back was better.